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The Arts

Grafton Historical Society publishes new Civil War novel

GRAFTON—A new historical novel for children, Grafton’s Medical Men, has been published by the GraftonHistorical Society and is on sale.

This is the third book in author Thomas Fontaine’s series on Grafton‘s volunteers in the Civil War and focuses on two young men, actual residents of Grafton, who faced the challenge of treating the wounded Union Army soldiers and the drama of the ugly side of war. It describes how limited the medical knowledge was at that time and how the men needed to improvise to help the needy.

Dr. Castanus Park, already a doctor in the village, was called by the Vermont governor to help form the medical unit of Vermont’s 16th Regiment in Brattleboro in 1862. He enlisted the help of 22-year old Edward Pettengill of Grafton to aid him in this task. The book follows the formation of the 16th Regiment through events that led it to the Battle of Gettysburg and Pickett’s Charge.

Grafton had more than 100 men volunteer for the war effort in the earlier years. Many from Grafton served in the 16th Regiment and are mentioned in the book.

The 26-year old Park had only a few years of experience as a doctor in Iowa but returned home to Grafton when hints of a war escalated. Pettengill was still in college when he was asked to assist in the medical corps. After his service with the 16th Regiment, Park was asked to re-enlist to serve as a surgeon with the Vermont 11th Regiment.

When the war was over, Park resigned from the medical profession, never to return to it. Pettengill, however, went on to study to be a doctor and served the nearby community of Saxtons River as its doctor until his death.

Other key young doctors in the book, Dr. Nathaniel Brooks and Dr. George Spafford, went on to be doctors in Charlestown, N.H., and Cavendish, Vt., respectively.

Like his other historical novels, Fontaine’s book was written for children at the sixth-grade reading level to help them understand the history of the Civil War through the lives of actual Grafton citizens and the historical events they experienced. He drew much of his information from diaries and histories written by local residents and from photographs from local organizations.

Fontaine is a middle school teacher at Kurn Hattin Homes in Westminster. He has been an educator for 30 years. His first book, The Messenger Boy of Grafton, was about Henry Spring, a young Grafton farm boy who enlisted at age 14.

His second book, The Grafton Cavaliers, told of the adventures of two young Grafton college boys, Sam Pettengill and Wilbur Burnap, who rode and fought with the Rhode Island Cavalry unit at Harpers Ferry.

The Grafton Historical Society has sponsored the publishing of his series of books. This latest book, along with his other two books, are available for sale at the society’s museum on Main Street for $14.95 and at local bookstores. To learn more, email grafhist@vermontel.net or call 802-843-2584.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #535 (Wednesday, November 6, 2019). This story appeared on page B4.

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